Saturday, December 01, 2007

Confessions of a shop-a-who-me?

Malls glittering with Christmas trees. Shoppers shuttling back and forth to their cars, filling their trunks with presents. At work, avid cybershoppers clicking madly during their lunch breaks.

Yes, it’s that season. Then there are the shop-averse like me.

Is this possible in our material age? Sad (from a retailer’s point of view) but true.

I hate trying to figure out which gift to give which person. I persuaded my children, at a ridiculously tender age, that the best gift was money, which they could then spend judiciously on favorite items. They got very good at that.

As for the rest of the family, what a relief to discover I could create calendars online using digital photos. Also, that some of my relatives enjoy receiving my books. But a lot of the time, as my nieces and nephews will attest, I throw in the towel and simply give money. One size fits all.

In my defense, I will admit that I like receiving money too. That’s because I have weird taste and unless someone asks me what I want, they almost never guess right. (I like Celine Dion CDs -- in French. I ferret out other CDs in French, Italian, Spanish and Greek. Juanes and Mario Frangoulis, anyone?)

In a totally self-serving manner, I am now going to offer a suggestion to others who struggle to pick the right present. Please, please, please – give books! If you don’t know which one to select, consider gift cards to bookstores.

With money tight for many folks, book sales are suffering. Some bookstores have closed, while others increasingly focus on merchandise such as DVDs and stationery. Category romances like Harlequin American, while still popular with a core readership, have to compete against our own used-book sales.

So if you love our books, why not use some of that gift budget to share the love with your family and friends? You’ll do us authors a huge favor. And, I hope, do a favor for those who may discover something they, too, will enjoy.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Christmas Date (AKA Inspiration Comes from Sex on the Beach)

Ha--I bet that got your attention. A journalism colleague of mine, Bobby Hawthorne, writes in his book The Radical Write that if you want to get someone's attention just start with one word: Sex.

So I did. I'll explain how it all fits in later (ha--I'm punny).

I got a card in the mail yesterday from Nick Kenig thanking me for sending him an autographed copy of The Christmas Date and for the dedication, which is, in part, to him. Nick was a photographer at Westlake High School (Austin, TX) long ago. My friends Bradley Wilson and Mark Murray raved about his photography and to this day I still use Nick's swimming photograph as an example of excellence when I teach my students.

Nick is one of the inspirations for The Christmas Date. I'd always heard tons and tons about him from Bradley and Mark. While at a journalism convention in Atlanta, the four of us went to the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta. The card Nick sent me reminded me the four of us had a round of Sex on the Beach shots. I was the one who suggested the type of shot since Bradley had some tradition that you had to do shots if you were a first-timer to the Hard Rock. (Atlanta remains the only time I've ever been in one.)

This was about nine years ago, and my memory has since gotten cluttered with more of life's happenings. Nick's card reminded me of that night and our talk (which I'd forgotten). That night I'd listened to his future plans and then gone home to St. Louis at the end of the JEA/NSPA convention and formed the idea for this book. I remembered that, but the night itself slipped from my mind and not from too many shots either. Since we were had convention duties later, we were quite restrained.

I'd took Nick's musings and projected them forward--the big what if as he ceased to be Nick Kenig in my mind and instead became Tyler Nichols (get the last name?). Tyler (who was originally named Nick Wilsen) then became another character in my head who demanded to have his own book.

It took a few tries, a move of location from Atlanta to Orlando, and a bunch of books (14 Americans and 1 NASCAR) in between before Tyler became the hero of my 16th novel for Harlequin American. I gave Tyler a family (I have no idea any of Nick's family, his marital status, etc.) and paired him up with the most opposite character I could find--and called her Kate Merrill, giving her my birth name for grins (I'm adopted). I also picked Kate in honor of Kate Walker and my daughter Kate, and if you read the book you'll discover a Sandra (for Sandra Marton) and a Nora (who is no way Nora Roberts). You'll also find a Wendy, one of my friends who owns a bookstore. Each name in this book is deliberately chosen, even though the characters are really nothing like (or represent) anyone whose name I used.

In fact, if I passed Nick on the street I wouldn't recognize or know him. And the guy on the cover looks more like a principal at my high school than either Mark, Nick or Bradley.

However, Nick's card was a great jog to my memory, letting me remember something I'd long buried deep and wouldn't have remembered without his jolt. The card go me thinking about the fun we all had that weekend, including visits to CNN, Centennial Olympic Park and Max Lagers. The funny thing--there were race cars in town that weekend. How's that for fate? All my books mean something to me, but this one really stands out as being special because it took so long to bring it to life and it's been so fun since it has. It's got one of my all time favorite scenes (something with candles) and I'll give you a hint that it ends with a little sex on the beach (sort of). You'll have to read it to find out what I mean.

I still keep in touch with Mark and Bradley (saw them just a few weeks ago in Philadelphia), and Bradley keeps in touch with Nick who is in graduate school in New York City. As for me, I'm plugging away writing my 20th book, now having finished #19, which I send to my editor on Monday.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Grinchy Christmas

Every year it's the same. The holiday season arrives way too soon and I'm never ready. I spend all of December running like crazy, trying to get the decorations up, the cards sent, the gifts purchased, the house winterized (we don't need that much here in Dallas, but a little). Then it's planning the Christmas dinner, visits from family, MORE shopping.

I always eat too much, don't exercise enough, gain that proverbial five pounds.

Aren't the holidays supposed to be a happy time? They were when I was a kid. I couldn't wait to break out those boxes of shiny Christmas ornaments. I loved the smell of the tree, the eggnog and hot chocolate, the breathless possibility of snow (usually not!), trying to stay awake through the hushed, incense-laden midnight Mass.

Alas, for me the holidays are more about stress than pleasure, and it shouldn't be that way. So this year I have an evil plan. I am leaving town for the entire month of December to live at the beach. I am going to ignore the holidays completely and spend my days lazing on my deck looking out over the ocean with a margarita in one hand and escapist literature (a.k.a. a romance novel) in the other. (I just read TEXAN FOR THE HOLIDAYS by Victoria Chancellor--fun book!)

Well, okay, already the plan has problems. I've started to receive holiday cards, and I realized I have to SEND cards. Then there are those cans of popcorn that just arrived, which I'd planned to give as gifts. Am I going to just let them sit? And what about outdoor lights? My block has won the neighborhood decorating competition two years in a row. I can't let my neighbors down. One final glitch--my family knows where to find me.

Obviously I can't escape after all. But maybe, just maybe, I can reach back to my childhood for those feelings of excitement and anticipation and joy, and ditch the stress. This year it's not all going to get done ... and I'm okay with that. So if you don't get a card from me, rest assured I'm still thinking of you ... while I'm lying on the beach.

P.S. As I write this, I have no running water and plumbers are digging up my back yard. I am leaving for a MONTH in two days and I can't do laundry or wash dishes. Is it Happy Hour yet?

Kara Lennox

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Raising a Romantic Hero

As a writer, I get really attached to the men and women I create. Of course, they're nothing compared to the (eventual) man and woman I'm raising. My son is 6 and my daughter's 4, and I love them both dearly. It means a lot to me that my son has seen his dad be courteous to others and even help with the laundry, because hopefully he won't ever feel that it's un-masculine to do those things himself. (And to his future wife, you're welcome.)

What really cracks me up about my son is how he's a budding romantic but would rather suffer blood and gore than admit it. (Whenever there's a playground cry of, "I'm bleeding!" my son's response is, "I wanna see." And when he himself is wounded, he wants to show all his guy friends. He explained it to me once as, "We're boys, Mommy. We like gross stuff.") According to my son's reaction to one of my covers, my BOOKS are gross stuff. He calls them Mommy's kissing stories and makes gagging sounds.

And yet he was seriously off his game during the last soccer match of the fall because he kept sighing over the little blond girl on the opposing team. And when we recently rented the animated feature Happily n'Ever After (in which Cinderella's love for the prince blinds her to the attributes of a kitchen boy), my six year old wisely declares, "She should just decide to be with Rick. He REALLY loves her." My son even managed not to gag at the end when Rick and Cindy finally got their kiss.

It makes a mom so proud.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A trip to Toronto

Two weeks ago Geri Krotow (a fellow Everlasting Love author) and I made a pilgrimage to the Harlequin headquarters in Toronto. It was a fabulous experience. We were treated to a tour of the entire facility, met with all the department heads, had lunch with the editorial staff and encountered so many nice people. I was blown away by the amount of work it takes for our books to progress from an idea to a finished product. So when you read a Harlequin book, know that it has been checked and re-checked by a cast of thousands. And a big thank-you to all those folks.


Ann DeFee
Goin' Down to Georgia - Harlequin American Romance, March 2008

Monday, November 26, 2007

Confession Time

Writers are always reading and evaluating—at least I am. Whether I like it or not, the quality of what I read often affects my own writing, regardless of the genre. As I read an especially good book I become so engrossed in the story that I forget about everything except the characters and what happens. I think about them when I must close the book and long after I finish it. A good novel inspires me to stretch my own writing skills and improve, and with every book I get better at it. Always a good thing!

On the other hand, on those occasions when the book is really bad, I find myself thinking, She could’ve said that better. Or... There isn’t much plot here. Or... There’s a hole there. Or... No heroine in her right mind would ever do that! You get the gist. I am so busy editing in my head that I never do get into the story. Sometimes I worry that in reading a bad book, my own writing will suffer. Of course, I soon toss the offending novel aside. Life is too short to waste reading a book you don’t even like. ☺

What can I say except, I am easily influenced by what I read. That’s it, my confession. (If you were expecting something lurid or gossipy, well, this is all you’re getting! ☺)

What about you? If you write, are you similarly affected? Or, would you rather confess to something else? Lurid or gossipy is fine. ☺ I’ll never tell.

Wishing everyone great reads, and until later,

All I Want for Christmas, November 2007